Artichokes: Six Easy Ways to Jazz Up Your Menu

Searching for ways to liven up your restaurant or cafeteria menu? Don't overlook the artichoke. For some, its prickly appearance and tough skin may be intimidating. And yet, beneath the spiny armor lies a tender heart that is also quite delicious. The artichoke blends harmoniously with many different ingredients and makes a wonderful addition to any dish. Take some time to get to know the artichoke and you will be pleasantly surprised at the results.

Here are six easy ways to add jazz to your menu and spice up your next gathering:

Dips. Cooking for a crowd? Hosting a wedding buffet, luncheon or cocktail party? Artichokes add texture, color and subtle flavor to festive fare. When steamed, they are easily pureed and blend well with fresh garlic, baby spinach leaves, and grated Parmesan cheese for a wonderful and aromatic spread. Set out some crunchy bread sticks and colorful crudites and your guests will be in appetizer heaven.

Pasta. The artichoke is steeped in Mediterranean history and culture. It is no wonder that this delicate vegetable feels so at home when nestled in with freshly prepared pasta. Keep it light by adding olive oil, plum tomatoes, and your favorite varieties of olives. Feeling daring? Crumbled feta cheese adds sharp contrast without overpowering the delicate nuance of the artichoke.

Soups. Artichoke soup makes a fine entrance before the main course. Blend the flesh from inside the leaves and the hearts with cream and pepper, then add chicken or vegetable stock for a surprising and inspiring creation. Variations of this delicate starter can be served either warm or chilled.

Salads. Many salad recipes involving artichokes thrive if you prepare them the night before. Combining simple ingredients like red wine vinegar, fresh mint, shallots, and garbanzo beans with the hearts of the artichoke make for a zesty and healthy way to satisfy hunger. Spread some honey butter on warmed pita bread as a hearty accompaniment, and your corner bistro will be the talk of the town.

Stuffed. Stuffing artichokes with a variety of fillings makes for a satisfying main meal. Boil them whole in salt water and scoop out the inside meat. Combine the artichoke flesh with some fresh ricotta, pine nuts, and parsley. Fill the artichokes, and bake until browned. There are countless combinations of ingredients you can use to fill the inside. Hosting a Thanksgiving feast? These tasty delights make a vegetarian-friendly alternative as a main course.

Sandwiches. Say goodbye to the usual tired toppers peeking out from your sandwiches. Liven up lunch with artichoke hearts - combine with smoked turkey and create a three-course meal on bread. Try using artisan bread and broil open-faced for an added creative touch. With a little wasabi mayonnaise, sliced mozzarella, and arugula, it won’t be your average delicatessen fare.

Artichokes should not be considered a culinary challenge, but rather an invitation to let your creativity spring to life. Once you master the art of cooking with the artichoke, you’ll wonder how you ever did without them!

Related Stories:
Artichokes: Getting to the Heart of the Matter

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